The Oakland NAACP’s Administrative Petition to the Oakland Unified School Board is an important advocacy tool to make sure that OUSD addresses the early literacy crisis and equity gaps, especially for Black, Latino, and English Language Learner students.
The OLC joined as a co-signer to voice our support for the issues raised and knowledge offered by the NAACP within the petition, recognizing that the district’s adoption and successful implementation of an effective elementary ELA curriculum is a critical and immensely consequential opportunity that will impact literacy outcomes for the next generation of Oakland students.
Oakland Literacy Town Hall
At the NAACP’s Oakland Literacy Town Hall in March 2021, Dr. Keyon Anderson shared his educational journey: from struggling with decoding text throughout elementary school, to finally learning to read fluently and with comprehension in high school with the help of his dedicated teacher, Ms. O, to achieving the highest academic success when he graduated with a Ph.D. from the University of Southern California.
His story raises critical questions. What did Ms. O do for Dr. Anderson that other teachers didn’t? How can we make sure that teachers are equipped with the training and tools to help struggling readers, so they don’t slip through the cracks?
In this blog, we are looking at the tools that teachers need in order to support all students in their literacy learning.
Why supporting teachers is critical
OUSD will select and announce a new TK-5 English Language Arts (ELA) curriculum by the end of the school year. Along with NAACP Oakland and other community organizations, we are advocating for comprehensive and high-quality teacher professional development on the new ELA curriculum. No matter which curriculum is chosen, a key to ensure success is to train teachers thoroughly on the new curriculum before its application in classrooms and to provide ongoing coaching in the first year at least.
At the end of the day it is teachers and other reading staff who must bring the curriculum to life in classrooms. They can only do so when they receive adequate professional development in the lead-up and implementation phases of the new reading curriculum.
How to support and stand with teachers
We support the NAACP’s demand that teachers receive useful, high-quality, and comprehensive training as a new TK-5 ELA curriculum is selected and eventually rolled out across the district. Specifically, the administrative petition requests “high-quality professional development”, meaning that teachers and other staff have access to:
- Opportunities for high-quality professional development in early reading instruction.
- Development opportunities to identify and support students with dyslexia.
- Access to the full sequence of trainings needed to implement the new curriculum.
- Access to the full sequence of trainings for healthy classroom management.
A central part of Dr. Anderson’s story was that he was not diagnosed with his learning disability (dyslexia) until high school. The NAACP administrative petition demands “development opportunities to identify and support students with dyslexia” (we would add “and all students who struggle to read”). At the Town Hall, NAACP’s Kareem Weaver suggested offering teachers an à la carte menu of specialized training modules that teachers can tap into as needed. Through these trainings, teachers would gain concrete strategies to help struggling readers, whether they need help with decoding, language processing, executive function, or other issues.
Finally, given our emphasis on authentic community engagement, we underscore the need to secure broad-based teacher buy-in for the new curriculum, whichever one is eventually selected. Like the Oakland NAACP, we believe that it is important to work with the Oakland Education Association, so that teacher professional development falls within OEA contract terms, that it is adequately funded (e.g., make sure that enough funds have been allocated for a full sequence of trainings needed to implement the new literacy curriculum) and well-timed (e.g., make sure that teachers get that training before the fall semester begins).
There is much debate about reading curricula: which one is right, which one serves all students, which one will move the needle on literacy assessment results. But an important piece of the puzzle — how that literacy curricula comes to life (or not) in classrooms — is a critical next step that demands our attention. The OLC believes in the importance of preparing and supporting teachers well, such that all teachers are equipped to use all their expertise, skills and tools, in alignment with the new literacy curriculum.